When I was a first year EFY participant, I was so blatantly naive to boys. I had just gotten over a messy, messy two years of middle school and I really had no desire to have anything to do with guys at all. Luckily, the boys in my first year group were so stellar. Actually, I have been blessed every year with guys that have helped me to learn some KEY lessons in my life. Let's take a journey through the years, shall we?
My first year of EFY, as I've said before, was bizarre boy wise. I had no idea what a COW was and I really didn't care. I had pretty cruddy self esteem and really didn't like the idea of Mormon boys. I have no clue why now, I just liked shaggy haired, skater, punky boys. Oh my goodness, that is so weird to think about now.
Okay, focus. The first day we met our boys, I found myself warming up to the idea of liking someone for only a week. Even though when I look at the picture now, we look like babies, I thought the guys in our group were hunks. There was especially one boy in our group that I liked way more than the rest. I guess he was my crush of the week, but I didn't realize that at the time.
It got pretty bad as the week progressed. I found myself in a group with all of the girls and then he would walk by. As he would walk by I would stop talking/laughing/being normal and I would just stare at him. So creepy. I don't think he reciprocated my feelings. But I learned an IMPORTANT lesson from him that week.
I learned that boys can be nice and respectful -- that they can show emotion and laugh and have fun with me. Before that, I don't think I had ever had a guy sincerely compliment me. Nor had I ever danced every slow song at a dance. I truly felt beautiful while I was at EFY, even though my fashion sense was questionable and it was 1000 degrees. I also learned that it is super important for us girls to respect and honor those with the priesthood. It was such an eye opener! I vowed that week that I would never even start to look at guys that I couldn't get married in the temple with and ever since that moment, I have loved Mormon boys.
The next year, I went to two different sessions, which meant two times the COWs, right? Actually, this year, I decided that having a COW was just too limiting on my experiences with others. So I determined to make every boy my COW. And it was a smashing success. All of the boys in my group in Provo were sooooooo fun! There were only a few of them (compared to the 24 girls we had) but I still managed to have a blast with the boys. I felt so much wiser and mature and I really felt like I took on talking to the boys in stride. It was still a little bit of the awkward segregation between boys and girls, but what can you do? I don't have any decent pictures from EFY in Nauvoo, but it was the same situation. There weren't many of the guys, (I think there were only 5!) and I was determined to be fun and bubbly, but not to serious with anyone. And not surprisingly, I had a great time! Although, it really felt like I was missing out on something when I didn't have any COW at all. Surely there was balance! Again and again, the spirit would witness to me when I was with these boys that eternal families are SO important and that I was worth something! Over and over again, I would be hit with an assurance that if I stayed true to the covenants I had made, I could have a lovely little family with a guy that was just as studly as the friends I had made at EFY.
Ahhhhhh ... when I think of righteous Priesthood holders, I can't help but think of my group last year. It was really different being in the older group, probably because these were technically people I could prospectively date. There were SOOOOOOO many studs in our group that it was hard to even imagine having just one COW. Every single guy in our group was solid. They so obviously had testimonies of the gospel and it was so attractive. Okay, I'm done gushing for a while. But seriously, I learned a ton from these guys -- I am so grateful to them! They were stellar examples of what I want in a husband. But I went through the week thinking, I must not have a COW. Pizza night came and went and I still hadn't paired off with anyone. This was the first time during my EFY history that I thought to myself, maybe I have the wrong idea about COWs. After all, it was just for a week and it wasn't like I was ever going to see these people again.
---This next one is going to seem biased-ly long ... It all happened less than two weeks ago. Keep that in mind.
As the life went on for the rest of the year, I had a ton of time to think. There was a lot of time for Facebook stalking and dating and experiencing life. I loved my year, and I grew so much in so many ways! I learned who I really am and I flourished in that knowledge. It really boosted my confidence to levels that I had never felt before. But I felt like something was off. I felt so confident in who I was, but it seemed like guys weren't reacting as well to how I acted. Although it didn't bug me too much, because I wasn't going to let boys determine how I felt about myself, I wondered what was so wrong with being me ... and I started to think in my head that I would never be able to have stellar guys like me. I'm 100% positive that this thought was just an overly dramatic teenager thing, but I'm also very sure that it was real to me for a very large part of the year.
I started to pray about where I needed to be for EFY. 500 mile radius, correct time frame, the spirit ... it all had to be there for me to commit. That seems really silly, but I feel like Heavenly Father knows where we need to be and when we need to be there.
On a whim, I started working on putting together a Mormon.org profile. On another whim, I posted it to Facebook. I love sharing the gospel so much, and Facebook makes it ten times easier! After I had posted it, I got a random wall post from my EFY 2011 friend, Heath. He just said that he had read my profile and that it made him want to be a better person. I appreciated this so much! After some back and forth commenting, he suggested that I come to Bloomington, with the promise that he wouldn't talk to me much so I could still make a ton of friends. I thought about it for a while -- like, three days. And then I felt and assurance that Bloomington was where I needed to be.
Months before EFY, I started praying that I would be able to have a great experience. I prayed for my company months before I even met them, I prayed for my counselor, I prayed for the session director, and I prayed for me. I wanted to be in a place at my life where I would be able to be helpful and that I would be able to make a difference in other's lives. I had some awesome experiences as I was praying that helped me to know that everything would be okay and that it would work out for my good.
As the weeks got nearer and nearer, I felt like I was ready. Physically, I had been working out every morning to prepare for all of the walking. Mentally, I had been reading tons of great books about the prophets that taught me a ton about how to be a good person. Spiritually, I had been making an extra effort to delve into the scriptures more, with added sessions of General Conference and supplements from Preach My Gospel. Emotionally, I prepared myself once again not to have a COW and made an extra effort to serve those who were in need. I prayed that the work I put into preparing into EFY would produce fabulous results.
When I went to Cincinnati, I felt like EVERYONE knew each other and weren't sad to leave because they would see each other again at Mormon Prom and Super Saturdays. I wanted so badly to create those same, lasting friends, but I couldn't get it out of my mind that I would never see these people again. That's why this year I was super excited! Not only did I know my sister, but I knew Heath, Connor, Taylor, and Maddie! I knew it wasn't a huge group of people, and the chances that we would see each other much at all were slim, but that was enough to make me feel like a part of EFY before it even happened.
The check in line was crazy, even at exactly 11 o'clock. I craned my neck looking for anybody I knew, but I couldn't find anyone. I walked through the line in an excited daze, making polite conversation with the people in front of me. When we got into the door, I saw Taylor and then Heath and Connor. The whole week really seems like a blur, but I remember some awkward conversation and hugging, and then I was pulling my fifty pounds of luggage onto the elevator.
I met my roommate, and then we met our counselor and the other girls in our group. At this point, I was beyond thrilled. The girls in our group were so cute -- basically righteous babes. We met up with the other group of girls (there were 24 of us!) and then headed down to our company spot. As I was walking, I couldn't help but look for the people I knew. It was way harder than the hardest game of Where's Waldo. We sat down in our company spot and waited ... and then our boys came.
Don't they just look like they define righteous studs? I was so surprised when I saw that Heath and Connor were in my group! I worried that because I knew them I wouldn't really get to know the other guys, but I managed to spend a ton of time with everyone in the group. Like I said way earlier in this post (IT'S SO LONG NOW! I'm sorry!!) I have been blessed with great guy examples at EFY. I loved the guys in my group so much this year. Each and every one of them were such great examples to me! I know that they are going to make fantastic missionaries and husbands and leaders.
As the week progressed, I found myself in groups with Heath a lot. We'd have ukulele jam sessions and water drinking contests and we went to a few classes together. I just attributed this to the fact that we had already known each other before the session, so it wasn't weird at all. I still was on a good track to keep my record of not having a COW. Even at pizza night, where all of the girls confess their COWs, I said that I didn't have one. Everyone scoffed at me, but I really felt that it was true. I don't exactly know when that started to change.
Near the end of the week I would call my mom and say, "Heath and I did this today and it was soo fun!" I loved that we had become such great friends during the week. I had gained so much respect for him because I saw him quietly serving people through the week and bearing his testimony. He was always so happy and genuinely nice to everyone and I noticed.
On Friday, before the dance, we took so many pictures. It was so fun to capture the faces of everyone I had gotten so close to during the week. Heath and I took some pictures with our ukuleles after everyone had already gone off to the dance and then we went to put our stuff away. We placed the ukuleles lovingly down on the floor (mine is like my baby) and then he pulled out a balloon with a cow drawn on it from his backpack. I think I was a little confused, and I can't remember much of what happened next, but he explained that I was his cow and I said that he was mine. I hadn't said anything to anyone about how I felt the entire week, but at that moment I realized he was my COW. I was surprised at how easily I identified it. It wasn't with any creepy stalker, I seriously love you and want to get married, feelings, but I just liked him. It was a pretty cute moment, if I do say so myself.
I don't know what I even felt at that moment. It might have been joy, but I actually think it was insane amounts of gratitude. I felt so secure with who I was and it was bliss. The rest of the night was really exhilarating. There was a lot of hugging, I love/miss you's, you're such a stud's, and crying that night, but I mostly felt happy. I loved knowing that the gospel was TRUE! I loved everyone in my company, and since most of us are going to the same college, I felt like everything would be okay and that we'd all see each other again, even if it was at our 120 year reunion in heaven.
And that's a wrap! A comprehensive history of all the guys I've been impressed with for the past four years. Even with the length, it still seems a little pathetic, I admit, but I have no regrets. I am so grateful for the EFY program. I am super, super, super grateful for the examples that the guys in my group have given me. COWs are temporary -- they are of the weekly variety after all-- but I have learned eternal lessons from each experience I have had with them, even when I was a self proclaimed vegetarian. I have learned about respect, both towards myself and others. I have learned how to interact with others better. I have learned NEVER to settle. I'm sure that in 20 years when I am married with kids I will still be thanking these righteous men in my life that have been such great teachers and examples.